The Diabetic Food Exchange List: Helping You Eat Well

Diet is one of the most important components of a diabetes care and maintenance regimen. Using the diabetic food exchange list is an excellent way to ensure a healthy meal each time. It also helps expand your choices when preparing or choosing a menu.

What is the Diabetic Food Exchange List?

The diabetic food exchange list is a system that makes up the structure of your personal diabetes meal plan. It is quite useful especially if you're looking for variety in your diet without sacrificing the necessary elements that are required for your condition. This way, you can take a look at several types of foods available and then decide which ones to use for a particular meal without worrying you might be using the wrong type of food or food combination.

How Does It Work?

In the diabetic food exchange list, foods are grouped into several basic types - fruits, dairy and dairy products, starches, meat and meat substitutes, sugars, et cetera. The exchange list will tell you how much of each food in each group you can eat while maintaining your daily recommended calories because calorie information is included with each food portion.

Each food on the exchange list is called an "exchange" and the system will guide you in determining which foods equal 1 exchange. It's easy to substitute one food for the other because the exchange list will indicate which foods have the same nutrients, carbohydrate and calorie content. If you swap a certain food with another, you get the same nutrients provided you follow the recommended portion control.

The diabetic food exchange list will help you measure food, regardless of which group it belongs to. This means you won't need the assistance of a nutritionist or dietitian every step along the way. Long-term use of the exchange list will train you into knowing how to make good estimates of the ideal serving size of any food that may be available to you at any given moment. Whichever you pick, you will get the same nutrients. Here's an example:


Almost all vegetables may be included in the diabetic food exchange list. One exchange is about half a cup of cooked or raw vegetables which contains carbohydrates and protein. When used with salad dressing, however, add 1 fat exchange.


Carbohydrates are an important component of any diabetic diet because they are your body's major source of energy. Approximately half of your daily calorie intake should come from this food group. Any of these foods may be exchanged or swapped, depending on your needs or preference:

1/2 hot dog or hamburger bun or 1 slice of bread
1/3 cup of cooked pasta or a single 5-inch pancake.
3/4 cup cereals (unsweetened) or ½ cup cooked oatmeal or grits
1 tortilla or 6 small saltine crackers or 15 pcs. of fat free corn chips
1/4 bagel or 1/2 pita bread


Fruits can be an excellent source of fiber, water and natural sugar. The fruits listed below contain about 60 calories each with nearly zero fat.

1/4 cup water melon or 1/3 small cantaloupe or 1/2 cup berries
1/2 cup orange/grapefruit juice or 1/2 cup of pineapple or apple juice or 1/3 cup grape juice
1/2 banana or 1 small apple


Meats are an important source of protein. Choose only lean meats and skinless portions for poultry. High-fat meats can increase your cholesterol level.

1 oz. tuna or 1 egg or 2 egg whites
1 oz. ground beef or 1 oz. of low fat cheese or cottage cheese
1 oz. of fish or 1 oz. of dark meat poultry (skinless)
1 oz. lean pork or 1 oz. lean beef

Milk and Milk Products

2/3 cup of fat free yogurt or 3/4 cup of yogurt sourced from 2% milk
1 cup nonfat or skim milk or 1 cup 1% milk (2% milk will also do)


The foods listed below are a good source of both carbohydrates and fats but they can also be great for your dessert in case you have the craving.

1/3 cup low fat frozen yogurt or 1/2 cup ice cream
1 2-inch square brownie or 2 small cookies or 1 granola bar

More Details On The Diabetic Food Exchange List

There are listings of food exchange lists available on sites such as for free but if you want a more comprehensive exchange list, you can also opt to buy them. Simply log on to the sites and order your own diabetic food exchange list online.